Designer Anya Hindmarch explains her love of the cabmen's shelter.
I have a particular obsession with the green taxi huts of London, called cabmen's shelters; I call them taxi-man shelters. I first became aware of these shelters when I worked in an office opposite one and I wondered who was using them. The one opposite me would allow the hard hats — builders — to buy sandwiches; it helped to boost the trade of the people working there. They were quite anti the hard hats, though, because the shelters were built for the cabbies.
I got to know the lady who ran the taxi shelters, Tracy. She has very kindly allowed me to go and have breakfast in one of them. Sometimes I take a group of women I admire and think are interesting, and we have these breakfasts. It's a unique place to gather. Last time we had a woman who was running a prison rehabilitation scheme and Vogue's Suzy Menkes. We have a real range of people from different industries. We were even involved in a short film about the shelters by Corinne van der Borch.
Tracy's father, husband and father-in-law were all hackney-cab drivers. She's told me about the cockney rhyming-slang names the shelters have, according to where they are located. The drivers who use the shelters have nicknames, too: the judge, the politician, the Pope… There is U-shaped seating with a table that runs round the inside of the shelter: you can fit about 10 people in there. They were designed in 1875 because, back when horses were pulling hansom cabs and then hackney carriages, the cab drivers were legally obliged to stay at the taxi stand while they were parked waiting. This often meant standing in freezing cold weather, and someone's horseman froze to death waiting outside.
It was the Earl of Shaftesbury who set up a charity to construct the shelters. They're exactly the width of a horse and cart, no wider. There were 61 of them built, and the 13 that remain are all Grade II listed (indicating that they are of historic and architectural interest).
The idea of the shelters just fascinates me, and I actually produced a limited-edition diary that was inspired by these little buildings. We launched it in one of them. It's one of my favourite things to do in
London — go to a cabmen's shelter and have a great tea and breakfast. I love the architecture of the buildings themselves, but I suppose it’s really about what black cab drivers mean to London: they're very opinionated; they're the barometer of what London is thinking, in a way.
This is an extract from For the Love of London by Conrad Gamble (Cassell £14.99).